(B2-9) Politico-National Material in a Spiritual Religious Form – Oratorio Composition from the 18th to the 20th Century

The musicological research project B2-9 is dedicated to the political functionalisation of religious music in diachronic comparison from the 18th to the 20th century, taking the oratorio genre as an example. It thus investigates a genre that is one of the least explored genres in the history of music.

a.) German Oratorios and Nationalism in the 19th and 20th Century (post-doctoral project)

In his “Populäre Vorträge über Bildung und Begründung eines musikalischen Urteils” (Popular Lectures on the Formation and the Reasons for a Musical Opinion) of 1877, Hermann Küster points to the importance that was placed on the oratorio. The dictum expressed by Küster, according to which “true artist’s souls” must sooner or later be inspired “to veritable national works”, does not only apply to the age of the (young) empire. In fact, a massive influence of nationalistic tendencies on the musical genre could already be detected ever since the French Revolutionary Wars. Beyond the maintenance and the reception of the ‘older’ oratories, a series of new “national works” emerges, with partly mythological and historical subjects from the Germanic or Nordic cultural area. In this manner, it becomes apparent that inherently to the genre, religious root and continuous religious tradition (up until the present) are entangled with a parallel secularisation. This repertoire of 19th-century German oratorios, which has not been revealed in full, forms the central purpose of the project. The political events of the 20th century as well as their impact on and reflexion in oratorial works mark the end of the time frame investigated. The spectrum covered ranges from the genre’s instrumentalisation in National Socialism up to the reflexion of events in the post-war period.

b.) The Oratorios of Georg Friedrich Händel

"Gewalt - Bedrohung - Krieg"

The oratorios of Georg Friedrich Händel can be regarded as the genre’s most important politically charged contributions in the 18th century. Drawing on the topos of the identification of the British with the biblical people of Israel, which had been since the 16th century, Händel composed a series of biblical oratorios as a reflection of his political present.

For this reason, the project first took a closer look at this phenomenon using the example of the famous oratorio of “Judas Maccabaeus”. Within the context of the lecture series headed by the catchphrase “Violence – Menace – War”, the composition was explored from different perspectives (in collaboration with Johannes Schnocks, Iris Fleßenkämper, Gabriele Müller-Oberhäuser and Jürgen Hedrich) in order to specify in this way how this setting, as an analytical and a commentating entity, stands vis-à-vis the environmental present.

„Die Macht der Musik“
„Die Macht der Musik“

A second miscellany – on “Alexander’s Feast” (developed in collaboration with PD Dr. Anja Bettenworth) − similarly compiles a selection of articles addressing an oratorio composition of Händel from the perspectives of various disciplines.

Aufführungen von Händels Oratorien im deutschsprachigen Raum (1800–1900)
Buchcover „Aufführungen von Händels Oratorien im deutschsprachigen Raum (1800–1900)“

A distinguishing feature of the 19th-century oratorio is the fact that there is no overview of the full spectrum of the works. A precise documentation does not exist. Martin Geck published his “Verzeichnis der deutschen Oratorien von 1800-1840” (Index of German Oratorios, 1800-1840) in 1971, which was a first step towards an indexing of the full repertoire. In collaboration with Prof. Dr. Rebekka Sandmeier (Cape Town), a continuation of this index is currently being compiled.

© Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

d.) Index of German Oratorios, 1800-1950

online database VDO
Online database VDO

The online database VDO provides an overview of the rich German repertoire of oratorios of the 19th and 20th century. The project aims to document as comprehensively as possible the works (sources, editions, etc.), dates of performance, and secondary literature regarding German-language oratorios.
The VDO is a German and South African cooperation between the musicological research project of the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” at the University of Münster and the University of Cape Town’s South African College of Music. The project has also been supported by Wolfgang Suwelack-Stiftung.